by Crystal Parikh

About Crystal Parikh

Crystal Parikh is Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis and English, and Director of the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. She is the author of Writing Human Rights: The Political Imaginaries of Writers of Color and An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literature and Culture.


Consider these two usages of the word “rights” from works of literature published nearly a century apart from one another. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1925), the character Tom Buchanan and his secret lover Myrtle Wilson argue over whether the latter “had any right” to say the name of Tom’s wife, Daisy. Tom feels so strongly that Myrtle lacks this “right” that he breaks her nose when she tries to exercise it (41). In Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “Year’s End” from the collection Unaccustomed Earth (2008), the protagonist Kaushik angrily berates his two young step-sisters, when he discovers them gazing admiringly at photographs of his dead mother: “You have no right to be looking at these…. They don’t belong to you” (286).


One day after the 2012 presidential election, Bill O’Reilly (2012), conservative commentator for the Fox News network, declared, “the white establishment is now the minority,” to explain how the nation’s first black president, Barak Obama, was able to win a second term in office. In response to O’Reilly’s proclamation, New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow (2012) explained that, in fact, white Americans are projected to remain the majority racial population in the United States until 2043. Blow nonetheless acknowledged, “The browning of America is very real and unrelenting.” Pondering the “meaning of minority,” Blow also suggested that the imminent “seismic shift in American demography” required us to ask: “How should we consider a waning majority when their privilege of numbers gives way to what many other Americans have experienced as the minority plight?”